EMC To Jump Into Solid State Drive Biz For Servers
May 16, 2011 Timothy Prickett Morgan
EMC has entered the fray for server-side flash storage. So if you were hoping for another source for solid state drives (SSDs) for your Power Systems server, you may be able to go to disk array EMC by the end of the year or early next year to get PCI-based flash and put a little technical and economic pressure on IBM.
Last week at its EMC World storage extravaganza in Las Vegas, the venerable storage array maker and owner of server virtualization juggernaut VMware said that it had a little something called “Project Lightning” under development. With Project Lightning, EMC will cook up its own flash-based PCI-Express peripheral cards, similar to the various units that Big Blue sells for its System x/BladeCenter and Power Systems lines. EMC plans to take its Fully Automated Storage Tiering, or FAST, software that runs inside of its disk arrays and in drivers on servers and move it over to the server side as well, thus allowing for the EMC systems software to move data closer to processors and automatically move hot and cold data not only around the inside of Symmetrix VNX or VMAX arrays (which can have both disk and SSD storage) but also between flash SSDs on the server and the Symmetrix arrays.
EMC also said that it would eventually roll out all-flash versions of the Symmetrix VNX and VMAX arrays for customers who needed the highest I/O performance.
EMC has been shipping flash drives based on single-level cell (SLC) technology in its disk arrays since 2008, and has shipped over 14 petabytes of flash capacity since then. The company also said last week that it would be buying up flash devices based on multi-level cell (MLC) flash and certifying them for use on enterprise storage cards and within its arrays. MLC is less reliable and slower, but about half as expensive, and if you overprovision an MLC device and save capacity for when cells start to degrade, you can get a lifetime out of an SSD that rivals a disk drive. Flash-based SSDs are fast at reading data, but are significantly slower. The idea with Project Lightning, says EMC, is to get the writes happening inside the server, where the latencies are lowest, and then have the FAST software figure out what data is hot and what data is not and then move it out to external disk arrays, fronted by flash or not, as it cools off.
It is not clear what server platforms EMC intends to support, but you can bet Power Systems machines running AIX and System z mainframes running z/OS are at the top of the list, right behind X64-based systems running Linux and Windows. It stands to reason that EMC will also eventually get around to supporting IBM i and Linux on Power Systems–particularly if we all start clamoring for it. The main thing is to have an alternative supplier of SSDs for Power Systems and to get a little competition here to drive down costs and drive up performance and functionality–and therefore drive up adoption.